More work to be done on implementing social clauses in Northern Ireland

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Northern Ireland has made considerable progress in implementing social clauses, however to really maximise their impact, there needs to be a focus on actual outcomes for people rather than the level of activity being generated.

NICVA’s Centre for Economic Empowerment commissioned RSM McClure Watters to carry out a review of social clauses – a committment stating that government procurement contracts need to have added social value for example training or job creation - and found that to date they have mainly taken the form of short term work placements linked to existing government training schemes and paid apprenticeships mainly in the construction sector. Their main aim is to provide employment opportunities for the long term unemployed.

While the progress made to date is welcome, the research showed that to fully maximise their potential the policy and practice of implementing social clauses needs to move to a new phase.

This phase should focus on the Executive, commissioners and procurement officials taking a more strategic approach to social clauses by developing a social value strategy that sets out social value priorities and reflects the needs of communities affected by planned works. Monitoring systems should become focused on measuring outcomes achieved for individuals and communities, rather than simply counting the number of people who have taken part in placement or apprenticeship schemes.

Speaking at the launch Lisa McElherron, head of policy at NICVA said,

With the Northern Ireland Executive spending over £2.5bn a year on procurement the announcement in the Programme for Government that all central government contracts would include social clauses was strongly welcomed by NICVA and the voluntary and community sector – in this difficult social and economic period the policy’s potential is significant.

“However, in our response to the PfG we did raise concerns that in order to take full advantage of the Executive’s commitment, social clauses would have to stretch beyond short term work placements in the construction sector, which has seen thousands of people made redundant due to the recession.

The research carried out by RSM McClure Watters confirms that a more strategic and innovative approach focused on how each procurement contract can create positive outcomes for individuals and communities is needed. We would urge the Executive to implement the recommendation to create a social value strategy. This has the potential to provide greater support and direction for commissioners whilst focussing on tangible outcomes for individuals and communities.”

The research made a number of recommendations including:

  • the need to develop a Social Value Strategy that clearly sets out how social clauses are to be used to further the social, environmental and economic goals of the Executive;
  • the consideration of social clauses in the pre-procurement stage of contracts;
  • a social needs assessment for major contracts in conjunction with local communities;
  • the Social Value Strategy should promote the wider use of apprenticeships and placements – linked to priority skills sector needs;
  •  monitoring and evaluation frameworks which measure outcomes as well as activities and outputs.

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